Racing Commentary: Star and Hustler fail to disturb Jodami: The head that wears the Gold Cup crown rests easy, as Muse and Blazing Walker fire the Festival imagination

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MIDWEEK predictions, for once, were fulfilled when bookmakers were forced to cut Jodami's price for the Gold Cup yesterday. The mechanism, however, was foreseen by few.

Peter Beaumont's leviathan was snoring soundly in his box over the weekend following the abandonment of Leopardstown, where the course resembled the Everglades, but there was barely more activity from the horses who could have eaten into his market supremacy for chasing's Blue Riband.

It is a truism that by this time of the year horses cannot vault their way much further up the layers' tables. The bookmakers lists are full, and movement, when it comes, is usually for horses on the way out.

So while Jodami was originally priced at 6-4 for Ireland's Hennessy Gold Cup, he was barely longer that that for the more competitive Cheltenham equivalent. And while he was chiselled in the lists yesterday down to as low as 6-4 for the Festival with the Tote, the real jumping about in the betting field concerned Young Hustler and Bradbury Star, who both failed behind Second Schedual at Sandown the previous day.

The former, who is increasingly resembling a frosty climber continually being beaten back from the ultimate peak, is now as long as 20-1 for the Gold Cup (with Ladbrokes).

Bradbury Star at least reserves his best efforts for Cheltenham, and has plenty of leeway to work on after he finished last of the four completers. Even by his enigmatic standards, Bradbury Star's display of scratchy jumping and soft capitulation was difficult to fathom. Difficult even for his trainer, Josh Gifford. 'The horse is fine and has eaten up but I'm not exactly sure what happened,' the trainer said, before venturing theories he had trouble believing himself. 'We might just have left him a bit short of work and a lot of our horses have had a little bit of a cough on them,' he said.

'Although I'm not a great believer in them, I might give him some blood tests to see if we can find a problem. But the Gold Cup remains his target and he won't have another race before then.'

Second Schedual's success was the third leg of a treble for Richard Dunwoody and a further nail in Adrian Maguire's champion jockey aspirations. Dunwoody has ridden 18 winners in the last seven racing days and is now six winners behind Maguire and 4-9 favourite with Ladbrokes to retain his crown. Those who suggested, earlier this season, that his powers had gone or even that he would be sacked by Martin Pipe before Christmas appear to have retreated into the woods.

Hurdling's key clue event, the Agfa Hurdle, went to the consistent Muse, one of racing's worst named animals considering the dearth of imagination he conjures in many people. The little chestnut does it all wrong for the purists, grinding out his results rather than swooping charismatically, and until yesterday he was ignored also by the bookmakers. But no longer, and David Elsworth's horse is now a general 12-1 to burn them all off in the Champion Hurdle.

The Festival's other main spectacle, the Champion Chase, may have the air of an old soldiers' reunion about it as two redoubtable combatants entered calculations over the weekend. Remittance Man, the horse who shares his thoughts with a sheep in his box, is about to leave a very bored farmyard animal behind as he embarks on his first racecourse journey for over a year to either Newbury or Wincanton.

Nick Henderson's former champion chaser has been back in full work for some time after recovering from a leg injury. 'I'd like to run him in the Game Spirit (Chase) at Newbury on Saturday, but it's heavy ground there at the moment and he really needs no worse than good to soft,' the trainer said yesterday. 'He's also in the Racing in Wessex Chase at Wincanton on Thursday and they do tend to have better ground there.'

Henderson will hope his runner performs as admirably as another returning giant, Blazing Walker, who won on his first start for 343 days at Wetherby. 'We'd done as much with him at home as we could, but to see him win was a big surprise,' Peter Cheesbrough, the 10-year-old's trainer, said. 'Every problem we've had with him has been different.'

Following this victory the bookmakers were attaching prices to Blazing Walker like a frenzied shop assistant with a label gun. Coral make him 20-1 for the Champion Chase, 33-1 for the Gold Cup and 25-1 for the Grand National, which is the preferred target of the chestnut's owner, Peter Piller.

That target may also appeal to punters, as the National routinely throws up a poignant winner. And if there was a sympathy vote at Aintree this season, Blazing Walker, who was trained by Arthur Stephenson until his death last year, would win by a landslide.

GOLD CUP (Cheltenham, 17 March): Coral: 7-4 Jodami, 4-1 Barton Bank, 10-1 Bradbury Star, 12-1 The Fellow & Run For Free, 14-1 Young Hustler, 20-1 others; Ladbrokes: 2-1 Jodami, 5-1 Barton Bank, 8-1 Bradbury Star, 10-1 Run For Free, 12-1 The Fellow, 20 others.

CHAMPION HURDLE: (Cheltenham, 15 March): Coral: 9-4 Fortune And Fame, 10-1 Granville Again, Halkopous & Oh So Risky, 12-1 Muse, 16-1 Flakey Dove; Ladbrokes: 2-1 Fortune And Fame, 8-1 Oh So Risky, 10-1 Flakey Dove & Granville Again, 12-1 Muse, 14- 1 Halkopous, 16-1 Spinning.

(Photograph omitted)